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Persea Books, $16.50 (paper)
Rachel Wetzsteon’s inheritance from W.H. Auden (she’s the author of Influential Ghosts: A Study of Auden’s Sources) is nowhere more apparent than in her third collection. Just as in Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” where life goes on as Icarus plunges into the sea, Wetzsteon has set a tale of personal heartbreak against the bustling, vivid life of New York City. The city cares nothing about the speaker’s pain, but stands in beautiful and sometimes useful contrast, as in one poem in which the red light of an ambulance stands in for the speaker’s heart: “the siren [her] pain made public.” Sakura Park is as much an ode to the city as it is a documentation of love and loss, and Wetzsteon does a marvelous job of playing the flaneur, portraying the multifarious sights and sounds of Manhattan. She loves her city, with its “precise roughmusic . . . terror and truth”; she also loves classic movies, Shakespeare, and playing with rhyme, which reminds us again of Auden, who also delicately fuses the world of the everyday with the mysterious realm of perfectly pitched rhythms: “Late October; the days grow shorter; / cobalt shadows troubled the water.” Wetzsteon’s play with sound and rhyme is a welcome relief from the sometimes overweening tale of romantic loss (“Oh heart that aches / and trust that breaks”). If any criticism can be made of the collection, it is that the poet dwells a little too obsessively on her break-up. But the speaker seems to know this, and in finding her sorrow mirrored in a friend’s, she conjures empathy and compassion to soften her reproach: “But who am I to / criticize? Her tale’s my own.” The book ends on a note of peaceful optimism, giving way to the promise that there is life beyond “the jerk that left her”: “There is still a chance the empty gazebo / will draw crowds from the greater world // And meanwhile, meanwhile’s far from nothing / the humming moment, the rustle of cherry trees.”
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